In San Antonio, the idea of summer reads might have much less to do with good books for the beach and more to do with curling up in a corner of an air-conditioned cafe.
In that spirit, three newly released or soon-to-be-released books offer glimpses of cultural memory lost and found, cultural challenges confronted and overcome, and a slice of oft-overlooked local culture in every Texas town.
The garden of memory
In an online Maverick Book Club conversation with Anne Elise Urrutia, author of Miraflores: San Antonio’s Mexican Garden of Memory published by Trinity University Press, poet John Philip Santos recalled growing up “seeing this mysterious little corner of [Brackenridge] Park,” and called it “a kind of ghostly legacy in our time, but perhaps a ghost that will live again.”
The mysterious little corner along Hildebrand Avenue holds the dilapidated ruins of an elaborate sculpture garden, library and gathering place built by Urrutia’s great-grandfather Aureliano Urrutia, a skilled physician and art lover who fled his home in Mexico during the early years of the Mexican Revolution.
Arriving in San Antonio, he built Quinta Urrutia, a Mexican-style architectural mansion on Broadway, and after his first wife died, he built Miraflores, his outdoor space of contemplation and recognition of Mexico’s complex history through sculptures and use of Talavera tile.
Urrutia’s descendent became fascinated with the garden in the 1970s and has advocated for its preservation and restoration while researching details of its past and present.
Her deeply researched and copiously illustrated Miraflores tome is “a book we have been waiting for, for 100 years,” Santos said, noting that the garden was inaugurated in 1920. The younger Urrutia traces her ancestor’s personal history before and after his arrival in San Antonio, including how the home and park were built and how both were lost to neglect.
Urrutia tapped an extensive photographic archive documenting the garden during its heyday and unfortunate decline, with images from her own archive and UTSA Special Collections, among other sources.
One purpose of the book is for the author to advocate for the garden’s preservation and restoration. The images give a vivid sense of what has been lost — such as the three-story library tower and a concrete and stone stage for performances — and what would need to be restored to bring the site back to its former glory.
As Chicano art historian Tomas Ybarra-Frausto writes in his foreword, “The beauty of Miraflores as a garden to delight and instruct calls out to be resurrected.”
Urrutia will make multiple appearances on a local book tour, including July 30 at the Barnes and Noble at 321 NW Loop 410, Aug. 6 at Ruiz Healy Gallery and Sept. 6 at the San Antonio Museum of Art.
Author Julissa Arce grew up in San Antonio, with immigrant parents who believed in the American dream. Her own experience pointed her in a different direction.
Undocumented in high school, she recalled a boy she had a crush on who told her she sounded like a white girl.
“I had spent so much time practicing how I enunciated words so no one could tell English was my second language, that I took it as a compliment, though he had not meant it as one,” she writes in You Sound Like a White Girl: The Case for Rejecting Assimilation, an eloquent, argument against sacrificing her Mexican heritage in order to fit in.
Arce writes that the yearslong process of obtaining a green card created tremendous anxiety and exhaustion because she had to become someone other than who she truly was. In the end, citizenship only revealed that her adopted country would never accept her for who she truly is.
During a PEN America book launch event in April at Scripps College, Arce said the book is the result of her journey of self-realization and represents the true migrant spirit.
“Eventually, all of us will realize that who we are is more than enough. Eventually, you will look at yourself in the mirror and be like, ‘Damn, I am beautiful. I am powerful,’” she said.
Arce quit a well-paid Wall Street job to become a writer, much to the consternation of her mother. But with the book’s publication, Arce said, “now she understands why I had to do it. Because at some point, your soul will want to shine through, and you can’t contain that. You cannot contain the beauty that exists in our brown hands. It has to come out, so let it out. Let that beauty out, and walk into every room like you deserve to be there because you do.”
You Sound Like a White Girl offers a template for anyone seeking to fully own their heritage while contributing to the health of their adopted home: “It is time to thrive in our own skin. It is time we learn our history and stand in our truth. The future and health of our nation depends on our willingness to embrace, support, love, and celebrate all the people that create the United States.”
You Sound Like a White Girl is widely available online and at booksellers including local independent bookstores Nowhere Bookshop and The Twig Book Shop.
It’s 5 o’clock somewhere
If San Marcos author Anthony Head has one goal for the new book Texas Dives: Enduring Neighborhood Bars of the Lone Star State he made with photographer Kirk Weddle, it’s to change misperceptions about dive bars and their patrons.
“For too long,” reads an announcement to news media, “dive bars have been written off as the last refuge for despair, heavy drinking, and questionable motivations. … While it’s true that dives may attract a few wastrels and rapscallions, it’s more likely that the regular customers are as solid as the next citizen.”
As frequent expounders on the state of alcohol in Texas for various publications, Head and Weddle are no strangers to dive bars. From among dozens of potential choices, they sidled up and settled on 12 neighborhood bars in 12 Texas cities to make their case.
Chosen for their distinctive charms, the 12 dives include The Goat in Dallas; Duddley’s Draw in College Station; Riley’s Tavern in Hunter, which bills itself as the oldest bar in Texas; and San Antonio’s own Texas T Pub, which has graced Broadway in the heart of downtown for 36 years.
Texas T owner Adela Fuller is easily recognizable from her signature hats, acquired at Paris Hatters next door. But she would be just as easily recognized for her smile, her generosity and her courtesy to customers. Not only would she call a taxi when needed, she often provides sandwiches to the homeless San Antonians who frequent the doorways of neighboring businesses.
“I’m a people person,” Fuller said during a recent afternoon visit to the dimly lit pub, “I love people.”
Regular patron Rick Rehnquist agreed. “We’re a family in here,” he said, gruffly petting the bar’s mascot cat, named variously Kitty Kitty Baby or Meow, who one day wandered in and found a welcoming home.
Head and Weddle initially chose the Texas T because “we just wanted to find a place that felt good, and this place immediately felt good.”
Head became upset when a Texas magazine called dive bars “places of regret and consolation, not optimism and anticipation,” which he staunchly disputes, and resolved to portray dives in all their scruffy, homespun, eccentric glory.
The process of writing the book proved his thesis, the prolific author said. “It was one of the happiest projects I have worked on.”
Texas A&M Press will release Texas Dives on July 28. The official San Antonio book release event will be held Aug. 10 at the Texas T, with special guest singer-songwriter Sid Grimes of Austin. Check Facebook for book tour locations and updates.
This article has been updated to reflect the correct dates for the release of Texas Dives and its release event at Texas T.